Friday, 13 July 2012

Mama who bore me (and bores me and bears me)

Brave: directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman; written by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell and Irene Mecchi

The thing about mass appeal is that when a popular film opens it’s difficult to avoid the critical hubbub which accompanies it, for better or for worse. Generally, all Pixar films tend to come with those overwhelming add-ons – ranking their place in the annals, deciding whether or not they’re masterpieces or simply excellent. Even with my attempts to avoid any output, I could help it so that writing about Brave becomes much more knotty than it should be as my brain keeps pulling me in so many different directions. The upfront is that, unlike any Pixar film before it, Brave is about a female protagonist. There have been additional rumblings which move from the film being the most Disney influenced of the Pixar oeuvre, one of their weaker entries, et al. I’m neither here nor there on that, as I’ve vowed in my manifesto, oftentimes it’s somewhat gauche to turn out a review which only compares a film to the other. But one thing which I could not shake upon seeing Brave was the way it continuously reminds me of another tale of a mother and daughter growing close – Mark Waters’ 2003 Freaky Friday.

The crux of Brave develops from the way the mother and daughter are unable to find a common ground on which to communicate. And, like in Freaky Friday, words said incidentally, and thoughtless vows make for a transformation which can only be broken by eventual understanding between the two. It is not a disservice to the creators of Brave that we know and expect for the problem of the film to be solved just in time for all to end well, relatively speaking, for our main players for the generation gap (and the way it is solved) is a dramatic trope in literature and film which comes with its own ingrained way of developing. In this way Brave expands as a curiously character focused film. For, it manners not that a reconciliation is an eventuality, but the manner in which the mother and daughter find their way (back) to each other becomes the crux on which it all is built.

More after the jump on the good voice-work in the film, its vague lack of  singularity towards the beginning and its sheer gorgeousness...


I have to admit that this becomes both a prop and a flaw because Brave is such a small (albeit effective) morsel that amidst all the incidental physical comedy which the animated genre seems to necessitate it becomes difficult for the main thrust of the character building of the independent Princess Merida and her more stylish mother Queen Elinor to unfold unencumbered. By the time the film does decide to sink its teeth explicitly in the rapport between Elinor and Merida ample minutes have been lost (and in a 90 minute film this can become something of an issue). This is almost – almost – qualifies as too fastidious a criticism to make. (Especially when, despite a vague sort of frenetic tone in the opening scenes, the entire film is lacking in turgidity.) Still, with such a character specific story in play the supplementary scenes, as diverting as they may be, becomes just that – diversions. And, even then I can’t quite fault it for them too much simply because the whole of the film is so bathed in sincerity

Good, then, that luminous performers Kelly Macdonald and Emma Thompson are playing that mother and daughter pair. The two make for an especially effective pair and they’re joined by an efficient cast of performers particularly Julie Walter’s slight but essential performance as the witch who is responsible for the body-switching shenanigans which lead to the film’s crux. In fact one of the most gorgeous scenes of the film as a “telephone” message of sorts is done via Medieval times doesn’t eclipse the excellent specific voice-work from Walters. And that’s saying much, because Brave is gorgeous. I’d wager the most aesthetically pleasing of all Pixar films, but I’d probably need to go back and verify that.

Here’s another upfront, which I’m giving you towards the end – I’ve often been unable to participate wholeheartedly in the enthusiastic love which comes with most things Pixar. So film after film (after film) has left me feeling like a passenger who has missed a very important boat. Which makes Brave a curious endeavour for me, because I’m aware that even some of its most ardent fans seem convinced that it’s not an impeccable effort from the studios. And, I’m not going on the record to say that it is a completely impeccable effort. Yet, it’s – perhaps – somewhere near the top for me in terms of the studio’s output, and whether this is a low praise considering I’m not often enamoured with the studio….? Well, I don’t know. Too many questions to answer which eschew the actual film’s quality for greater observations, which I don’t care to get into at the moment. Brave makes good on its keenest arc – the things which keep a mother and daughter apart, and the things which bring them together. It is, admittedly, a basic thrust but when undertaken with such charm, unaffectedness and gorgeousness I have to submit my support.

Lovely / B+ *

* Perhaps, perhaps, a particularly low tiered B+, but grading sometimes leads you to tetchy places and though I’m just barely – but barely – uncertain of its worth as a B+ film, it’s definitely better than a B film.

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